oanow.com (Alabama) : Some Question Justice of Sex Offender Laws
Although Troy King’s Community Notification Act passed unchallenged in the Alabama Legislature in 2005, even proponents of the law admit that it is not problem-free.
The law states, “The Legislature declares that its intent in imposing certain registration and reporting requirements on criminal sex offenders is to protect the public … and not to further punish such offenders.”
But the public is not given the whole story, according to Kyla Kelim, cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. Kelim has worked extensively on cases dealing with the Community Notification Act and is an advocate for non-violent offenders who feel victimized by this law. “The public has this perception that they’re being protected from predators. They’re being told these people are dangerous,” she said.
Kelim said non-predatory offenders should not be subject to the same stringent consequences as a violent rapist or child molester, as they are under this law. Offenders charged with rape in the second degree, or statutory rape, “get lumped in with the worst of the worst. This is not just one grade of crime where they’re all just terrible people who deserve to be locked away from society, but that’s how they’re treated,” she said. “They are trying to get every sex offender in the state to leave. They don’t care if they have to go to the moon, but they don’t want them here.”
Some second-degree rape charges result from modern day Romeo and Juliet romances.
“One of the biggest problems with the law is that it gives the public a false sense of security,” said Kelim. She explained that sometimes fliers delivered to neighbors of sex offenders don’t have accurate information.
According to Valley City Administrator Tim Bryan, a firm advocate of the law, the notification act has one definite safety deficiency. One safety concern, according to Majors, is that there are no laws to stop a man prohibited from residing with a minor from staying at his girlfriend’s house all day, as long as he sleeps at his own residence. And this girlfriend may have kids or live near a school.
Kelim is not opposed to the law in all cases, just its non-discriminatory nature. She stressed that she doesn’t want predatory offenders to roam unmonitored, without regulations.
Majors, whose job it is to register offenders in Lee County, agreed that certain offenders need to stay on law enforcement’s radar. “There are some sex offenders I feel that we need to know where they are all the time. There are others … we don’t have to be concerned with,” he said.
Kelim said tracking non-violent offenders takes law enforcement’s time and resources away from the truly dangerous offenders, predators that warrant locking your doors at night, those from whom you hide your children.
Kelim didn’t deny that many of the non-violent offenders were guilty of “colossal stupidity and capital immaturity” but, while stressing her fierce protectiveness of her young children, she said, “There are people that I represent that I would leave my kids with. I know for a fact they’re not a danger to anybody.”
Kelim says one of the most obvious constitutional violations of the law is that offenders who may not be a danger to society have few or no options. She said there is no mechanism for a convicted offender to go into court and prove that he or she is not a danger to society. Poor offenders, who are the vast majority, are especially helpless. They are denied their due process, and hiring an attorney is their only recourse. But that is costly, and often they simply remain ashamed and unheard.
“I’ve had legislators whose family members have gotten into trouble who couldn’t believe that they voted for this and couldn’t believe that this is what it meant,” Kelim said.
The Supreme Court dismissed cases challenging the constitutionality of the act, saying that these strict requirements for offenders are not a punishment. (this is possibly the largest obstruction to justice- the courts are refusing to recognize these laws as punishment. By doing so, they can avoid the constitutional violations which are clear within these laws).
There are some who disagree with the Supreme Court’s assessment, including those whose lives are directly impacted by this umbrella law.
“Nobody has put a case together to go up to the Supreme Court and show that this law is a fundamental restraint on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Kelim said.
Kelim said with information so accessible to the public, sexual offenders have been killed by mobs, their houses burned, their cars firebombed, they’ve committed suicide.
Majors said “some landlords who allow sex offenders as their tenants get harassed, get hate mail. Some offenders get their mailboxes torn down, stuff thrown in their yards.”
“I don’t think that anyone can look at the specific unintended consequences of this act (Community Notification Act) and say that it’s fair or that anyone has thought about it,” Kelim said.
She warned that the law is “setting up a class of professional criminals. We try to help our citizens in the worst of times and to provide resources for them to be able to recover and reintegrate into society, but this is one group of citizens that isn’t permitted to do that.
“Is it a good idea to take people who genuinely may want to go back to society, right their wrongs after they’ve served their sentences, and to put them in a position where they literally have no way to exist without resorting to crime? Doesn’t that make them more dangerous? To ostracize them?” she asked.
With this law, ideas of rehabilitation have virtually disappeared, Kelin said.
“They have touted questionable studies that say sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated. We got the attorney general of the state of Alabama to agree in writing, in a stipulation, that there are no meaningful studies that say anything about the recidivism rate one way or the other. Why would you give up on a group of people without any reason?” she questioned.
When asked about ordinances across the country similar to the one in Valley, which require sex offenders, even juvenile offenders, to put signs in their yards on Halloween, Kelim replied, “Somewhere along the way hysteria is replacing common sense. Whipping the crowds into hysteria about sex offenders for the sake of political expediency is wrong. Elected officials make laws more restrictive because everyone hates sex offenders. It’s convenient to beat up on them. They have no advocates. They have no voice. This is a politically powerless group of people.
“Who’s going to vote against harsher treatment for sex offenders? Who is going to stand up and say they deserve rights?” After a pause, Kelim answered her own rhetorical questions: “No one.”